Q&A with Eating Disorder Psychologist Ashlea Hambleton

Q&A with Eating Disorder Psychologist Ashlea Hambleton

February 28, 2020 - The READ Clinic

If you are living with an eating disorder, you are not alone.

The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorders. Over time, they can have an adverse impact on your physical and mental health. We recently sat down with Ashlea Hambleton, one of our psychologists who specialises in helping adolescents and adults who experience an eating disorder, to answer a few questions.


Q: What classifies as an eating disorder?

A: Eating disorders are officially considered a mental health condition, however, they effect the body both psychologically and physically.  Many consider eating disorders to exist on a spectrum, and include dieting and disordered eating behaviours, which can become progressively more serious and can develop into an eating disorder.  These can include Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and Other Eating Disorders (such as Purging Disorder, atypical Anorexia Nervosa, Pica).  It is important to remember, that irrespective of the diagnosis, all eating disorders cause distress, can be life-threatening and require specialist treatment.


Q: What are the warning signs for eating disorders?

A: The warning signs for an eating disorder differ depending on the disorder.  However, common behaviours that indicate that there might be something going on include: restricting different food groups or a sudden change in diet (e.g.,, cutting out fats, carbs, sugars, gluten), skipping entire meals, an increased interest in food and cooking (looking at recipes, wanting to cook for others), counting calories, hiding food or eating food in secret, eating large amounts of food in one sitting, or an increase in exercise behaviours.  Other changes can include an increase in anxiety, irritability, difficulties sleeping, poor concentration and attention, social withdrawal and an increase in fatigue.

If your loved one complains of dizziness, chest pains, or fainting, it is best to see a General Practitioner as soon as possible.


Q: What are some ways family and friends can approach their loved one if they notice warning signs?

A: Approaching a loved one can be tricky, as often eating disorder behaviours can occur in secret, and your loved one may not see the behaviours as a problem.  One way to approach and start a conversation can be to check in on their emotional state instead of focusing on the behaviours, for example “I noticed you’ve not been seeing your friends as much and you seem more tired than usual, is everything okay?”.


Q: What options are available if someone wants to speak to someone?

A: There are lots of resources for individuals worried that they might be struggling with disordered eating or poor body image, as well as for family and friends who are concerned about a loved one.  The Butterfly Foundation has resources as well as a National Helpline (1800 33 4673) where anyone can receive counselling, information on how to approach and care for their loved one.

The great news is that in November 2019, some Australians experiencing eating disorders are now able to access more support through Medicare. Known as an Eating Disorder Plan (EDP), it’s an evidence-based, best practice model of treatment.  The plan can include up to 20 Medicare-subsidised sessions with a dietitian and 40 sessions with a mental health clinician over a 12-month period.  The best place to start is to have a chat with your GP.


If you would like to book in to see one of our psychologists, please call us on 02 4363 6600 to make an appointment.